"Happy New Year!" I cheerily e-mailed my cousin. "It can only get better!" They had finished the year in the throes of a particularly challenging time, including a catastrophic house fire, a car accident and an ailing parent. Like anyone at a loss for real words of encouragement, I had fallen back on glib greeting card sentiment punctuated by excessively happy exclamation marks. Keep smiling! There's a silver lining somewhere! It can't get worse!

"No, it can always get worse," she replied. "So I never say that. We're not saying ‘Happy New Year' here. Just GIVE US A NEW YEAR."

This made a lot of sense to me.

I've had years where I wanted to linger in the glow of good times. Then there have been others when I couldn't shake off the old year fast enough, ready to embrace anything else but what has been. While "happy" might have been nice, just "new" was more than good enough.

I like the word "new." Or, really, it is the idea of "new" that I like. The idea of a fresh start, clean slate, something unwrinkled, unstained, unblemished. A new year is like a new canvas, stretched out before me, blank and waiting, full of potential and possibility.

But I am a lousy artist. While an empty page excites me, it also creates anxiety and hesitation. I don't want to start, afraid to mar the pristine blankness with my clumsy efforts, never quite able to reproduce the ideal in my head with my hands.

Likewise, I hesitate at the threshold of a new year. The changing from old to new always inspires some introspection, prompting me to reflect and make resolutions - the incandescent promise of a fresh start inspires me to want to do better, to do more and to be more. I want to shake off my regrets and disappointments and start all over again. I have an ideal I want to live out. I really don't want to screw it up.

But I'm only a novice apprenticed to a Master Artisan. As I write and draw on the canvas of my life he takes my imperfect efforts and refines them, teaching me and showing me the better way. He guides me with gentleness and compassion, grace and mercy, new every morning. Each day is a changing of old to new.

"Behold, I am making all things new," he says (Revelation 21:5). He invites me to collaborate with him. I will wipe away your tears and take away your pain. I am creating a masterpiece. Create with me - I will show you how.

As a child, the weeks leading up to the end of year were dark and cold, everything dead and dirty under heavy skies. How magical it was to wake up on a winter morning to the first snow. A fresh bright canvas glistened before us, covering the dirty deadness of the day before. What delight the snow brought us - sledding, skiing, snowmen and snow angels. I couldn't wait to fling myself into the snow and make my mark on the new fallen blankness, delighting in my childish masterpieces.

Jennifer Zach lives in Ahwatukee Foothills with her husband and three children. They are members of Bridgeway Community Church. She can be reached at jennizach@yahoo.com.

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